AFC West: Cullen Jenkins

What to watch for: Broncos-Giants

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It can be tough to follow such a high-end opening act, but that is the Denver Broncos' task this week as they make their first road trip since an Aug. 17 preseason game in Seattle.

“And our last outing wasn’t too positive,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox about that 40-10 loss to the Seahawks. “I think we’ve got a little bit to learn from that.’’

By the time Broncos jog onto the field Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., it will have also been 10 days since Peyton Manning carved out another slice of football history -- and carved up the Baltimore Ravens' secondary -- with seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 opening victory. So, in that light, here are some things to consider about the third, and perhaps last, time Peyton will face his brother Eli’s team:

  • What comes after seven? Manning tied an NFL record with his seven passing TDs against the Ravens and became the first player to reach that mark in a game since 1969. Tough to top that. The Broncos would like to run the ball a few more times -- and a lot better -- against the Giants than they did against the Ravens, but Manning will still put the ball in the air plenty. The Giants have some uncertainty at cornerback -- Prince Amukamara suffered a concussion in the opener against the Cowboys -- and their linebackers struggled in coverage against Dallas. That’s a recipe for Manning to push the ball up the sidelines at times, especially out of play-action, and work the middle of the field with tight end Julius Thomas or Wes Welker. Running back Knowshon Moreno, who has the running back of choice in the three-wide-receiver set, figures to be busy in the passing game as well -- Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo completed 18 passes to his backs and tight ends, who consistently found room in the short to intermediate zones.

  • [+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
    AP Photo/Paul JasienskiDenver center Manny Ramirez could get a stiff test from the Giants' interior defensive line.
    Four of a kind. The Giants have always believed in the benefits of a four-man rush to bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks -- “That’s been true going all the way back to when I was coaching there,’’ Fox said. That allows the defense to use seven players in coverage in these pass-happy times -- and it's especially true for a Giants team with some uncertainly in its defensive back seven and that likely needs to play it a little more conservatively. Against the Cowboys, with end Jason Pierre-Paul still working his way back from offseason back surgery (he played 50 snaps in Dallas), the Giants did most of the consistent damage when they won on the inside. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins, a combined 628 pounds, repeated pounded away at Cowboys rookie center Travis Frederick. The two also made life difficult for right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, so much so many in the league believe recent signee Brian Waters will be manning the position the next time the Cowboys play. The Broncos struggled at times against the Ravens' defensive front, particularly in the run game on the interior. The Giants figure to test left guard Zane Beadles and center Manny Ramirez plenty.

  • Short and not so sweet. The danger in all of the up-tempo frenzy going on in the league -- and the biggest reason the jury remains out on all of it -- is what it does to a defense when the team’s offense doesn’t get a first down when running at warp speed. The Broncos had a 48-second three-and-out possession in the second quarter against the Ravens, to go with a 59-second possession in the fourth quarter. “We have to avoid that,’’ said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “When we go to our up-tempo stuff, we have to make sure that we’re staying on the field and put the (opposing) defense in a bad defense.’’

  • Three-pack. What the Giants could do with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks at wide receiver was already a significant challenge for opposing defenses. And if Rueben Randle can consistently be that third option -- all three topped 100 yards receiving against the Cowboys -- it spreads things out even a little more. The alignment to watch was one that was repeatedly effective against the Cowboys, with Nicks and Cruz lined up to the offensive right and Randle as the lone receiver to the left. The Giants consistently got all three into open space with that set. It will be a significant challenge for the Broncos' defensive backs. “Real good third option," said Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said of Randle. "I described him to our guys, he’s like a No. 2 in the league, I think he’s a legitimate starting-caliber wide receiver (who) happens to be the third guy in their rotation."

  • Be in a rush. In of the rose petals tossed at the Broncos’ feet after what was a high-quality victory over Baltimore, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that Denver did not have a sack, or hadn’t really even stressed Joe Flacco all that much in the pocket, until right tackle Michael Oher suffered a severely sprained right knee on a 1-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice with 8 minutes, 3 seconds to play in the second quarter. All four of the Broncos' sacks, including the 2.5 for defensive end Shaun Phillips, came after the Ravens had to slide protections at times with Oher out. The Giants have had their own struggles in the offensive front, but the Broncos have to find a way to get some heat on Eli Manning -- or Manning will find the soft spots in coverage.

  • Adapt or punt. You don’t spend $12 million of Pat Bowlen’s dollars on Welker if you don’t want to go with three wide receivers on offense most of the time. But the Broncos struggled mightily early against Baltimore until they went to a two-tight-end look for five plays. They found their flow, played a little bigger for a few snaps ... and away they went. They have been more efficient at times over the past two seasons out of the two-tight-end look, especially early in games. The Broncos had eight plays among the first 20 that went for one yard or fewer or were an incompletion. The first 20 snaps, including penalties, resulted in three punts. The Broncos didn’t score the first touchdown until they went to two tight ends, then got back in the three-wide set on their fifth possession of the game. They scored a touchdown on a one-play drive, in three-wide, to close out their fourth possession after they got the ball on the Ravens’ 24-yard line, thanks to a Chris Harris interception.

AFC West notes

March, 11, 2013
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The Broncos have signed safety David Bruton to a three-year deal. Bruton is an outstanding special-teams player.

The speculation around the league is the Kansas City Chiefs will re-sign defensive end Glenn Dorsey. The Chiefs run a 3-4 defense and he is best suited for a 4-3 defense, but apparently the new regime in Kansas City likes him enough to keep him.

The Giants signed defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. He visited the Raiders last week, but they are tight against the cap.

The Chargers are keeping receiver/returner Richard Goodman. He was an exclusive rights free agent.

The Chiefs have a private workout set with Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher. He is a long shot possibility to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Here is an Insider look at the Raiders’ offseason needs.Insider
The Oakland Raiders gained significant salary-cap room by restructuring the deal of safety Tyvon Branch, according to the Contra Costa Times.The savings is expected to be about $4.3 million, according to ESPN’s John Clayton. The Raiders had less than $1 million in cap room before the Branch deal.

The paper reported that Branch added two big years of contract money in 2016 and 2017. Branch signed an extension last year. While the move helps Oakland now, the Raiders need to be careful and not to do too many of these type of deals. These are the type of deals that get teams in cap trouble down the road. But it was necessary to help the team this year.

Quarterback Carson Palmer, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey are all likely facing pay cuts if they want to remain in Oakland. Defensive back Michael Huff could also get a restructuring for the Raiders.

Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said at the NFL combine he doesn’t expect to have a ton of room to bring in outside free agents. McKenzie hopes to bring in some mid-level free agents. The team has already visited with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who was recently cut by the Eagles.

In other AFC West news:
  • As expected, punter Britton Colquitt is one of the restricted free agents Denver is going to give a contract tender to.
  • The Eagles and Texans have already reportedly reached out to right tackle Eric Winston. He was cut by the Chiefs on Wednesday night. Houston cut Winston last year because of a tight salary cap. Meanwhile, Winston said in a radio interview he thinks the Chiefs will take a tackle with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
  • Oakland backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues to say the right things as he awaits his chance to play.
The NFL Network reported that former Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins will visit the Raiders. He is visiting several teams.

This may be the highest bidder type of deal, so if the Raiders value Jenkins, they may be able to get him. With Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour not expected back and Desmond Bryant expected to get interest in free agency, Jenkins could be a key rotational player. He was in Green Bay with Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie.

Meanwhile, Oakland tight end Brandon Myers, who had a breakout season in 2012, gets the feeling that he may be playing elsewhere this season. The free agent said his agent has not gotten the idea the Raiders will be big players for Myers in free agency. Yes, the Raiders have other needs and yes, they will have limited spending capability, but the Raiders need to keep all the good players they can.

If Myers leaves, then the Oakland roster will have another big hole. The other tight ends currently on the roster, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon, have not shown they can be counted on as starters.

In other AFC West news:

In an Insider piece, Denver’s Von Miller and Chris Harris and Oakland’s Marcel Reece made the all-undervalued team.

The Denver Post reports the Broncos are expected to do what it takes to keep restricted free agent, Britton Colquitt, from leaving in free agency.

What is A.J. Smith's future?

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
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A.J. Smith could have stayed in the AFC West.

But apparently, the former San Diego general manager is moving East. U-T San Diego is reporting that Smith, fired by the Chargers at the end of the season, is expected to join Washington’s scouting department, where he will work with fellow longtime former AFC West stalwart Mike Shanahan. For what it is worth, I heard similar chatter this morning upon leaving the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

The paper reported Smith also talked to the Chiefs and the Patriots about a scouting role. Smith is a good football man. I doubt he will get a chance to be a general manager again, but he belongs in the league and it looks like he is on the doorstep of joining again.

In other AFC West notes:
  • The Eagles cut defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. New Kansas City coach and former Philadelphia coach Andy Reid could have interest in both players. The Chiefs are expecting change on the defensive front, so there will be some openings.
  • As expected, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Oakland is trying to restructure Carson Palmer's deal. He is on the books for more than $13 million on the salary cap in 2013. There is no way Oakland is going to keep him at that number. If Palmer balks at a restructuring, Oakland could cut him. But the team wants to work something out.

Waiting for the onslaught

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
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While the news has been cranking up in the past hour or so, the first day of NFL movement has been slower than expected.

None of the AFC West teams have even sent out their list of signed undrafted free agents. I spoke to several agents Monday and they expected Tuesday to be overrun with agreements. Teams can agree to terms with free agents from other teams, but they can’t sign them until Friday. Teams can make trades and agree to terms with their own free agents as well as adding undrafted free agents.

Yet, teams have so far spent of Tuesday planning. Many teams are cutting players as they prepare for free agency. Both Baltimore and Dallas have cut several veterans and there’s speculation they are both trying to make room to make a run at Oakland free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who’ll be the free agent prize. Several agents I spoke to Tuesday said they were surprised by the lack of agreements. But they said they sensed teams were trying to adjust to the new $120 million salary cap and that more deals will start happening, in earnest, Wednesday and Thursday.

There is also a sense of caution, several agents said. They feel teams don’t want to get spurned by players who they make agreements with now. So, teams all may be waiting to finalize agreements closer to Friday to avoid being left at the altar.

The quarterback domino is worth watching. It started when it was reported Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck will not return to the Seahawks. ESPN’s John Clayton reports Tennessee may be the frontrunner to land Hasselbeck. That could affect Denver’s attempt to trade Kyle Orton. Clayton reports Orton could be reunited with Brandon Marshall in Miami.

Yet, Clayton also said if the Broncos don’t receive a third-round pick for Orton, he could be kept in Denver and the Broncos could wait to see if a quarterback gets hurt later in training camp before trying to trade him again. I think that would not be smart. If the Broncos are comfortable with handing the keys to Tim Tebow now, they should just do it and see what happens. Keeping Orton around and having him take valuable repetitions from Tebow would be a waste.

Denver has to make a decision now. The Arizona Republic thinks the Cardinals could decide to pursue Orton over the Eagles’ Kevin Kolb. The paper reasons that the Cardinals think that Orton is not far off Kolb in terms of talent, and Orton could be enticing because he’d be cheaper. The quarterback market could start to move soon.

Meanwhile, I hear Seattle is working to bring back defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Denver has been interested in him. Still, Denver could go after Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins or San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin.

There was some talk Baltimore offensive lineman Marshal Yanda could end up in the AFC West. He is heading back to the Ravens, though.

By the way, Seattle is picking up quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Leinart. Boy, that trade with San Diego for Charlie Whitehurst is looking even worse than it did last season. The Chargers moved up 20 spots in the second round last year and received a third-rounder for Whitehurst in 2011. The Seahawks then thought Whitehurst was the quarterback of the future. Clearly, that idea has changed.

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